|Distance:||3.6 miles, RT|
|Hiking Time:||2-3 hrs|
|Elevation Gain:||1,000 ft|
|High Point:||5,435 ft|
|Snow Free:||July - Mid-November*|
|Trailhead Pass:||National Park Pass Required|
|GPS Waypoints:||Cayuse Pass, MP 16 parking: N 46° 51' 52", W 121° 31' 58"|
Chinook Pass Parking Lot: N 46° 52' 31", W 121° 31' 07"
* Make sure Cayuse Pass is still open before you go.
The Eastside Trail at Mount Rainier National Park is perhaps the prime example of a three-season hike. Sometimes you can even make it a four-season hike or snowshoe depending on conditions. Most hikers start on the Eastside Trail at Silver Falls (Ohanapecosh), Owyhigh Lakes or Deer Creek at Cayuse Pass. What many hikers don't know is that the Eastside Trail continues up to Chinook Pass and Tipsoo Lakes from Cayuse Pass.
Reasons for that lonesome stretch of trail may be because there's no visible trailhead sign and scant mention of that 1.8-mile piece in guidebooks. The Eastside Trail from bottom to top or vice versa is 14.8 miles (one way) with 3,500 feet gain - that's too long a hike for most hikers even in summer (without a car shuttle). Fortunately you can hike the Eastside Trail a piece at a time by breaking it up into segments. Possibly the most challenging part of this hike is finding the trailhead. (See the additional information section below for details on finding the trail.)
Once you're on the trail it is easy to follow though it is narrow in places; it doesn't get a lot of use. The first "chapter" of this short novella of a trail is through grand old forest, dark and peaceful. Through the conifers you can see where the trail has been rerouted over the years; how often, we don't know. Stick to the main path; avoid spurs blocked off with branches.
After skirting a large, boggy meadow the Chinook Pass Highway comes into view. The meadow is a pretty setting and ideal for wildlife. There are a couple crossings of Chinook Creek; none of them daunting enough to stop a hiker but watch out for slick rocks on an icy morning.
On a sunny day, remember to turn around from time to time for views of Mount Rainier, Cowlitz Chimney and Governors Ridge. Take a photograph - by afternoon the mountain loses it's distinction to haze.
As the trail gains elevation the grand conifers are replaced by small meadows, clumps of subalpine trees replace the peaceful old-growth forest. At times the trail is close to the highway; it veers away in other stretches. At one point near the highway the trail skirts a large boulder field with a cliff above.
Soon the trail comes out at a trail junction above Tipsoo Lakes (N 46° 52' 00", W 121° 31' 07") where there is a view of Naches Peak (right), Yakima Peak (left), State Route 410 and Tipsoo Lakes. From this junction you can continue to Chinook Pass via the Naches Loop trail (the junction is signed). If conditions are still good you can continue on the Naches Loop as far as energy and conditions allow. You can also drop down from the junction, cross SR 410 and continue on the Tipsoo Lakes trail to where it tops out at Chinook Pass.
Tipsoo Lake makes a great finale to an easy hike - even in the "between" seasons it is a popular trail and while most of the fall color had faded when we hiked, the lakes are still beautiful enough to photograph and admire. Stay out of the areas closed for meadow repairs - these lakes could easily be loved to death.
Without significant snow, strong hikers have still another option - they can continue from Chinook Pass to Sheep Lake, also featured on this website. From Chinook Pass it is a little over two miles to the lake.
To get there: From Cayuse Pass on SR 410 turn right onto Highway 123, drive about a mile and look for the second wide spot on the right-hand side of the road. If you get to MP 16 (right) you've gone a little too far. There is room for several vehicles at this spot. After parking walk a few paces back toward Cayuse Pass and look for the trail heading up on the upper (right-hand side) of the road. Look for a small metal sign that designates the rules and regulations for hiking inside MRNP - it is not visible from the highway but you can spot it on foot.
The map is Green Trails No. 269S (Mount Rainier Wonderland). Websites hikers should be familiar with in winter: www.wsdot.wa.go (mountain pass road conditions); www.nwac.us (mountain weather and snow conditions); Mount Rainier National Park: www.nps.gov/mora (For current road/trail updates)
- Karen Sykes